The Town of Mammoth Lakes was in the California Third District Court of Appeals on Monday seeking the overturn of a 2008 jury verdict that the Town lost to Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition (aka Hot Creek Development). Hot Creek claimed that the Town interfered with its rights under a development agreement to build a condo-hotel at Mammoth Yosemite Airport. The Mono County jury unanimously awarded MLLA a $30 million judgment. The Town quickly appealed.
Monday’s hearing, which was attended by Town Manager Rob Clark and Town Attorney Peter Tracy, called for each side to give a 15-minute presentation to be followed by questions from the three-judge panel.
Inside of one minute, justices interrupted the Town’s presentation and began peppering attorney Maria Chedid with questions.
MLLA Attorney Dan Brockett of the firm Quinn Emanuel described the Town’s reception by the Judges as “chilly.”
Brockett was satisfied that the Judges understood the case and were “respectful of the jury’s work.”
Clark didn’t read much into the Justices’ demeanor. “It’s like reading tea leaves,” he said.
The case really comes down to whether one believes the Town was forced into a dissolution of its agreement with Hot Creek based upon orders from above (FAA), or whether the Town may have used or even solicited such orders as an excuse to wriggle out of the development agreement in order to date a wealthier, sexier partner (The FAA had dangled $30 million in potential airport improvements so the Town could accommodate 757s landing here from faraway places).
The jury concluded Mammoth was a two-timing tramp.
Appeals have a low rate of success, Brockett added, because the system wishes to respect juries. According to the Eisen legal website under the header “FAQ Regarding Appeals,” in California “about one appeal in four results in reversal of the trial court, in whole or in part.”
However, another legal expert we spoke to said Appeals Courts are notorious for reducing jury awards and are protective of governmental bodies because the system does not wish to see average citizens penalized monetarily by the boneheaded decisions of elected and non-elected public officials.
A few things to consider. Court judgments appreciate at a rate of 7% (for public agencies) annually, meaning that $30 million judgment has already appreciated to $34.3 million. Then you can tack on $2.5 million for Quinn Emanuel’s attorney fees if we lose.
Back in Mammoth on Wednesday, Town Council received a closed session briefing about the appeal following its regular meeting. According to a press release from the Town issued on Thursday, “based on the comments and questions made at the hearing by the panel of judges, the Town Council has concluded that there is a significant risk that the trial court verdict will be upheld. A decision is expected within 90 days.”
To prepare for a potential negative ruling on the appeal, Council is exploring several options. These include filing a Petition for Review with the California Supreme Court, challenging the denial of the Town’s insurance coverage, and seeking legal advice on municipal bankruptcy options.
Council, we hope, understands these are all Hail Mary options.
Additional Council coverage from Kirkner …
Deb Pierrel, Joyce Turner and Sandy Hogan are working with the Town on a budget reformatting process and presented their preliminary results at Wednesday night’s Council meeting. Council was very impressed with their work. “John Vereuck is probably smiling because the 2009 budget oversight committee that we were both part of was trying for transparency and methodology,” said Council member Rick Wood, which was what he believed the three women had presented that evening. The most interesting potential component of the plan was an idea from the budget format used in Los Gatos, Calif. According to Pierrel, Los Gatos focuses on specific projects each fiscal year (something Mammoth could potentially do if it gets its project priority list nailed down), and even asks for donations for the selected projects. This way citizens aren’t always coming in and asking Council for money all over the place, Pierrel said. The donations get the community to rally around projects that aren’t fully funded.
Rick Wood may have been complimentary to the budget reformatting consultants but was much less so to Town staff after reviewing their proposed workplans. “It was difficult to get through this agenda bill even though there’s nothing new in it,” Wood critiqued. “I don’t want to see this drop off, it doesn’t make me happy at all. You should follow the example of the volunteers [Pierrel, Turner and Hogan] who have put thousands of hours into the budget reformatting process.” Mayor Pro Tem Bacon added that the workplan only shows what each department is individually working on and not overall priorities.
Lastly, hats off to Assistant Town Manager Karen Johnston who sat through her final Council meeting on Wednesday night. Johnston told The Sheet that she does not have any plans at this time for what she is going to do when she is officially released from the Town on Nov. 1. Finance Director Brad Koehn and Human Resources and Risk Management Director Michael Grossblatt will be out as of Nov. 1 as well, part of the Town layoffs that occurred in September.
AT&T rethinks upgrade timeframe
AT&T recently announced that it would speed up its completion of network upgrades on wireless assets acquired from Verizon Wireless in June of this year. The timeline has been bumped up from the original estimate of sometime in mid-2011, to the end of 2010 or beginning of 2011. This is important to Mono and Inyo counties residents because it means service for Alltel customers in the area, also known as California Rural Service Area (RSA) 6.(1), will be launched sooner rather than later. Alltel was acquired by Verizon in 2008.
An AT&T store has set up shop in Mammoth on the corner of Meridian Blvd. and Old Mammoth Rd. where the Starbucks used to be, but it has yet to open. The Sheet stopped by the store on Thursday and found a manager inside. The manager could not comment on the push to complete the network upgrades sooner or even on when the store is expected to open.
“If I say anything I could lose my job,” she said, adding only that the store would be opening “soon.”
Alltel customers in the Mono and Inyo county areas who are joining AT&T as a result of the Verizon transaction will receive an offer for a brand new AT&T handset at no additional cost. Depending on when the local store actually does open you may even be able to shop locally for said device. Additionally, according a press release from AT&T, “the vast majority of customers choosing free comparable devices will be able to keep their existing rate plans, none of these customers will be required to assume an additional contract term.”
Local friends are mourning the untimely loss of Mammoth resident Patti Rea, who died at 10:10 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 20, finally losing a hard-fought battle to recover from internal injuries sustained in an auto accident.
Rea and her husband, Ralph, both suffered major injuries in a crash near Little Lake on U.S. 395 late in the afternoon Sunday, Sept. 12. The Reas were returning home from a UCLA game that weekend when, according to the California Highway Patrol, Patti dozed off at the wheel while driving.
Mr. Rea said he plans to hold celebrations of Patti’s life in Mammoth and Woodland Hills. Times, places and dates will be announced later. In lieu of flowers, he said Patti would prefer donations be made in her honor to Chamber Music Unbound (CMU), which is a 501(c)3 non-profit. Donate to CMU at P. O. Box 1219, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93456-1219.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower 8 Nov. 1954 (In a letter to his brother Edgar)
“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”